06/07/2007 12:00AM

Cosmonaut upset chance in Manhattan


ELMONT, N.Y. - Cosmonaut's previous forays into Grade 1 company have not ended well. But if his first two races of this year are any indication, his career might just be ready to take flight in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.

The Manhattan, run at 1 1/4-miles on turf, is one of five graded races that whets the appetite for the $1 million Belmont Stakes on the 13-race card. A field of nine was entered for the Manhattan, including such stalwarts as English Channel and Better Talk Now.

While those two will take the bulk of the wagering, Cosmonaut - after being favored in his first starts this year - may offer some value.

Following a 12-race campaign in 2006, Cosmonaut was given a freshening by trainer Patrick Biancone. The horse made his season debut at Keeneland, winning a classified allowance race by 3 3/4 lengths, the beneficiary of a perfect trip.

That performance sent him off the 2-1 favorite in the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico on Preakness Day. Under Edgar Prado, Cosmonaut was in good position down the backside. But at the half-mile pole, Mending Fences broke down and fell in front of him. In a remarkable display of athleticism, Cosmonaut leapt over the colt, but his deficit had gone from three lengths to seven.

Still Cosmonaut jumped back into the bridle and made a run at Remarkable News, who held Cosmonaut off to win by three-quarters of a length.

"He jumped properly last time," quipped Biancone. "He could be a jumper and Prado could be a jump jockey."

Biancone said Cosmonaut came out of the race well and should be able to handle the 1 1/4 miles of the Manhattan. Cosmonaut drops seven pounds from his last race, and at 117 he is in receipt of five pounds from English Channel.

"He's got two races under his legs." Biancone said. "He could be sitting on one of the races of his career."

Cosmonaut will need the best race of his career to upend English Channel and Better Talk Now.

English Channel won three Gradeo1 races last year, including the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over this course. In his most recent start, English Channel finished 12th in the Dubai Duty Free at Nad al Sheba. Pletcher said that English Channel didn't handle the soft turf that night.

"He never seemed to be going well at all," Pletcher said. 'He came out of it physically well; he's trained good. I'm hoping he does like Host and Honey Ryder did two weeks ago."

Honey Ryder and Host rebounded from poor efforts in Dubai to win stakes at Belmont and Monmouth, respectively.

With front-runners Red Zipper and Kiss the Kid in Saturday's field, English Channel should get a better trip than in last year's Manhattan, when he set the pace before finishing fourth, beaten a half-length.

"He would be better off a touch off the pace with someone to follow," Pletcher said.

Better Talk Now does his best running when he trails the field and the fractions are fast. Better Talk Now is coming off a troubled-trip fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

"The one horse came over on him and the other horse came in, and he kind of took the worst of it the last eighth of a mile," trainer Graham Motion said. "I think he ran his race. It was a little disappointing it happened right there.''

Sky Conqueror won the Woodford Reserve despite stumbling at the start and losing a shoe.

Others in the Manhattan field are Minister's Joy, Steppenwolfer, and Shakis.